The two fighters grappled in the middle of the makeshift ring. It was really just an empty stall in an old stable, but it served the purpose well. A crowd gathered around the stall cheering the two men on, drowning out the grunts as the fighters attempted to push each other into decaying straw and muck. So far, they had both managed to keep their feet but they were both tiring and soon one of them would get caught off balance or lose his grip and he would be pinned either to the floor or the stall wall. After that, the fists would do the rest of the work.
Hogarth could feel the strength draining from his legs. His opponent, Gunther, was bigger, heavier and he was putting all of his mass against Hogarth's body. The smaller fighter knew that he was going to have to make a move or he was finished. He was quicker but could he land a blow able to stun Gunther long enough to regain some energy? He didn't have time to think. Instincts kicked in and Hogarth let go. He pivoted around Gunther letting the big man fall. He was still up! It had worked! Hogarth smirked and wheeled around and... BAM! A massive fist hit him square in the nose. Gunther had seen it coming. The last thing Hogarth heard before the darkness enveloped him was a collective groan from the crowd.
He woke up in the same stable, now empty. The crowd had just left him in the fetid slime. The crowd was gone, Gunther was gone, and his money was gone. He sat up and touched his nose with a wince; broken. He could feel the semi-dry, sticky blood on his lips and taste it in his mouth. He put his head in his hands and cursed. That was his last chance to make enough money to pay off the debt collectors. It was just before dawn, the lord's men would be at his house by now. No point in going back there, he would just be arrested and sent to the workhouse. He needed to disappear, to hide away until he could get back on his feet. He got up and sneaked out of the stable in case someone was waiting for him. All seemed clear, he looked around and then headed north. Yes, north was the way to go. It would be a long trek, but if he could get there he could find refuge in Haven.
A few days passed and Hogarth was making good time. He stayed off the roads until he was out of the lord's land. Now, he traveled on the road until he spotted someone else. Then he would duck for cover if possible. The weight of his debts began to lift and he started to feel a bit like one of those adventurers the bards sing of. Maybe that's what he would do! He could become an adventurer for hire! He envisioned goblins leaping out to waylay him and he punched at the air knocking the imaginary creatures on their backsides. He was so engrossed in his daydream that he very nearly missed the smoke up ahead before it was too late.
Hogarth shook off his fantasies and made for the woods. He moved forward along the road and saw that the smoke was actually coming from the left side of the road, opposite of him. It looked like a campfire, but it was too late in the morning for anyone travelling to still be camped. He made the choice to move to the camp's side of the road and sneak up on it. Maybe they were sleeping in and he could swipe some food.
Crossing over the road into the brush nearby, Hogarth got his first look at the campsite, or what was left of it. There did appear to be a campfire in the middle though it was only smoldering. The rest of the campsite was also smoldering. All of the underbrush, trees, and even the ground had ash and soot covering it. It looked as if the campfire, which was at the center of the destruction, had exploded somehow. Not much was left, but the whole place did smell as if someone had been cooking a roast. He searched the area and almost tripped over the badly burnt corpse of a dwarf. He put his arm to his mouth to block the stench of burnt flesh. He would never look at roast the same way again. The dwarf was near the campfire, he must have been caught in the blast. He wore leather armor that was now burnt and useless, but his hand still held a tight grip on a wicked looking knife. It had a serrated blade and the the point curved back creating a hook. A gut hook, if Hogarth recalled correctly, it was useful for skinning animals. The knife was undamaged except for some soot on the blade. Hogarth looked around a bit more, but the site was cleared out. He decided he may as well take the knife, it might be useful if he comes across bandits or at least a rabbit.
Walking onward, he found himself looking at the knife the rest of the day. The handle was wrapped in leather and appeared to be bone underneath. The metal of the blade had a strange greenish hue to it when he held it a certain way. He had never seen anything like it and certainly not in his tiny village. Adventure already!
Dusk came and Hogarth started to consider finding a camp. Before he could make a decision he heard a noise. A twig snapped. Someone was hiding in the brush up ahead. His hand went to the knife, now tucked in his belt. He moved forward carefully and a figure stepped out onto the road. The man wore robes, held a staff, and a pointed hat. "Hello." greeted the man. "I'm terribly sorry if I startled you. I'm just setting up my camp for the evening and I need someone to help me carry some logs. Would you be willing to help me... er, what's your name, by the way?"
"H...Hogarth." He answered cautiously.
"Hogarth, I am Castilion the Conjurer, a travelling wizard and worker of wonders. I cut my arm yesterday and can't seem to lift much with it now. Would you be willing to help me carry some logs over to the firepit I've made? If you would be so kind, I will be more than willing to share some of my provisions with you." the wizard offered graciously.
"Okay, sure." Hogarth let his hand slip from the knife's hilt and picked up a log.
Once the logs were set, Castilion said some strange words and a bonfire erupted from the firepit. Soon Hogarth and Castilion were sitting down to a nice meal of roasted sausages and potatoes. Hogarth was beside himself. A real wizard! More adventure! Castilion was very friendly and regaled Hogarth with tales from the road. He spoke of orcs and zombies, elves and gnomes, and even dragons! Hogarth found out that Castilion was headed to Haven as well and before they bedded down for the night they had decided to journey there together. Hogarth fell asleep wondering if he would make a good wizard's apprentice.
Hogarth's dreams that night were very disturbing. He had dreams that the lord's men caught up to him. They killed Castilion and tried to take Hogarth's knife. He lashed out at them, one by one they all fell or ran away. Then he saw their back up. It was Gunther! That brute had ruined his life, now it was time for revenge! He screamed and tore at the big man, using the gut hook on the knife to rip a jagged wound across his throat. He was avenged and it felt good.
Hogarth woke up with a fright. Cold sweat dripped down his forehead. He reached up to wipe the sweat away and saw that he was holding his knife; his bloody knife. He looked over where Castilion slept but he wasn't there. Then he spotted the wizard only a few feet away on his back. Hogarth crept over to him but there was no point. Castilion lay dead with a jagged wound ripped across his throat. "No! What have I done?!" he cried out.
You've helped me Hogarth. You rescued me and you helped me avenge my fallen master.
"Who?! Where are you?!" Hogarth asked to the air.
I'm here. In your hand.
Hogarth looked down. "A talking knife? Are you magical?"
Oh yes, Hogarth. Very magical.
Hogarth was stunned, "Why did you kill Castilion? He was going to help me find a new life!"
YOU killed him Hogarth. You killed him for me. You see, he killed my master; the dwarf whose hand you found me in. And now that you have killed him for me, I will help you. I will help you find a new life. We are going to have SO many adventurers together.
"O...okay." Hogarth stood up and walked down the road towards Haven, excited to be on a real adventure.
A month later, in the slums of Lower Haven, Hogarth stood over his latest conquest. "Oh man, thank goodness we were able to save those villagers from these trolls! We're going to be famous!"
Oh yes, Hogarth. We're going to be VERY famous.
Hogarth smiled at his magical knife and walked away from the bodies of a fruit peddler and his wife.